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Will Hu Jintao Emulate Jiang and Retain Control of PLA after Party Transition?

Paper No. 5276                                                    Dated 31-Oct-2012

By B.Raman

There are two Central Military Commissions (CMC) in China----the Party Central Military Commission and the State Central Military Commission. The party CMC is the more important of the two. It acts as the interface between the Armed Forces and the Communist Party of China CPC) and makes recommendations to the Party leadership in matters such as declaration of war and peace, declaration of an internal emergency or martial law and deployment of the Armed Forces inside and outside the country.

 2. The State CMC exercises professional control over these forces. In China, the Defence Ministry does not exercise this professional control. It is essentially responsible for military diplomacy and handles military-military relationships with other countries.

3. The Party  CMC was created under the first Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1954 after abolishing the People’s Revolutionary Military Commission which had been set up when the formation of the PRC was proclaimed in 1949. The State CMC was created under the fourth Constitution in 1982.

4.The Party CMC reports to the Central Committee and the Politbureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The State CMC reports to the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is China’s Parliament.

5.The following have been the Chairmen of the Party CMC since it was created by the first Constitution in 1954:

Mao Zedong, September 1954 - September 1976

 Hua Guofeng, October 1976 - June 1981

 Deng Xiaoping, June 1981 - November 1989

 Jiang Zemin, November 1989 - September 2004

 Hu Jintao, September 2004 – Present.

6. The following have been the Chairmen of the State CMC since it was created by the fourth Constitution in 1982:

Deng Xiaoping, June 1983 - April 1990

 Jiang Zemin, April 1990 - March 2005

Hu Jintao---Since March 2005.

7. There are three important posts in China----the General Secretary of the CPC which gives the incumbent control over the party, the Chairman of the Party CMC which gives the incumbent control over the armed forces and the President of the State which gives control  over the State apparatus. During the period when Deng was considered the paramount ruler of China, it became evident that of these three posts, that of the Chairman of the Party CMC is the most important. Deng never officially held the posts of General Secretary of the CPC and the President of the State, but he held the post of the Chairman Of the Party CMC from  June 28 1981 to November 9,1989.

8.Zhao Ziyang, who was the General Secretary of the CPC from January 16, 1987 to  June 23, 1989, before he was removed  for his perceived softness towards the student demonstrators of the Tienanmen  Square in June 1989, was reported to have told Mikhail Gorbachev during the latter’s visit to Beijing that though he was designated the General Secretary of the CPC, the real power vested in Deng in his capacity as the Chairman of the Party CMC.

9. Jiang Zemin took over as the General Secretary of the CPC on June 24,1989, after the removal of Zhao and continued till November 15,2002, when he handed over to Hu Jintao. He held office as the President of China from March 27,  1993 to   March 15, 2003 when he handed over to Hu. He held office as the Chairman of the Party CMC from November 9, 1989 to  September 19, 2004 when he handed over to Hu. He held office as the Chairman of the State CMC from March 19,1990 to March 8,2005, when he handed over to Hu.

10. Thus, between November 15,2002 ,and September 19,2004, Hu had the control of the Party and the State apparatus, but did not control the Armed Forces, since Jiang continued to hold office as the Chairman of the Party CMC. Was it an unilateral decision by Jiang or was it supported by the CPC? What were the circumstances that led to Jiang continuing to function as the Chairman of the Party CMC? The answers to these questions are not clear. It is however, evident that Hu was not totally trusted to exercise control over the Armed Forces for nearly two years after he had taken over as the CPC General Secretary.

11.A speculation at that time was that the so-called Shanghai clique, including Jiang, which was in a majority in the Standing Committee of the Politbureau, did not trust Hu who is not from Shanghai and preferred that Jiang continued to control the armed forces even after handing over control of the Party to Hu. It was speculated that the  professionals in the PLA found it increasingly odd having to report to Jiang when Hu was the party chief. Ultimately, Jiang was persuaded or pressured to hand over to Hu as the Chairman of the Party CMC. Since September 19,2004, Hu is the effective head of the Party, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus.

12. According to published information, the present composition of the Party CMC is as follows:

Chairman: Hu Jintao  (since September 2004)

Vice Chairmen:

General Guo Boxiong (since November 2002).Age 70.In charge of weapons and logistics

General Xu Caihou (since September 2004).Age 69. Responsible for political and ideological affairs in the Armed Forces.

Xi Jinping (also Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party, Vice President of the People's Republic of China) (since October 2010)


Minister of National Defense - General Liang Guanglie. Age 72.Due to retire at the 18th Party Congress starting on November 8,2012. (since November 2002)

Chief of General Staff of the People's Liberation Army and Commander of the PLA Army — General Chen Bingde (since September 2004).Age 71

 Director of the General Political Department — General Li Jinai (since November 2002). Age 70

 Director of the General Logistics Department — General Liao Xilong (since November 2002) .Age 72

 Director of the General Armament Department — General Chang Wanquan (since October 2007). Age 63

 Commander of the PLA Navy — Admiral Wu Shengli (since October 2007). Age 67

 Commander of the PLA Air Force — Air Force General Xu Qiliang (since October 2007) .Age 62

Commander of the Second Artillery Corps — General Jing Zhiyuan (since September 2004). Age 68.

13.On the eve of the 18th Party Congress starting on November 8,2012, the following postings have been announced:

General Zhang Youxia ( Age 62) to replace Gen. Chang Wanquan as Director of the General Armament Department.

General Fang Fenghui  ( Age 61) to replace Gen. Chen Bingde as Director of the General Staff Department.

General Ma Xiaotian (Age 63 ) to replace Gen. Xu Qiliang as Commander of the PLA Air Force.

General Zhang Yang ( Age 61) to replace Gen. Li Jinai as Director of the General Political Department.

Gen.Zhao Keshi ( Age 64) to replace Gen.Liao Xilong as Director of the General Logistics Department.

14.The five new incumbents are expected to take their place as members of the Party CMC. General Chang Wanquan is tipped to be promoted  as a Vice Chairman of the Party CMC and a Member of the 18th Politburo of the CPC.

 15.On October 26,2012, the PLA Daily and the “China Daily News” commented as follows on the key postings announced on the eve of the 18th CPC Congress:

 “The People's Liberation Army announced key appointments in a major reshuffle that experts and observers said reflects its determination to continue its modernization drive.

“Four generals — Fang Fenghui, Zhang Yang, Zhao Keshi and Zhang Youxia — were named to lead four key PLA departments: general staff, general political, general logistics and general armaments.

“All held leadership positions at major military commands.

“Ma Xiaotian was recently named commander of the Air Force after holding the post of deputy chief of the general staff.

“The reshuffle won't change the country's military strategy as the appointments are not decided by any individual but the top leadership as a whole, said Xiong Guangkai, a retired general who was deputy chief of the general staff in the 1990s.

“It is the Central Military Commission that makes such personnel decisions," Xiong said.

"Like the country, the PLA is under collective leadership. So unlike some other nations, the PLA's strategy and policies are not going to change with changes in personnel."

“Teng Jianqun, research director of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the reshuffle reflects the leadership's emphasis on the experience of senior military commanders, especially at a time of regional tension.

“Their careers almost follow the same path," Teng said.

“All four are generals from the PLA ground force and have achieved their rank through merit and worked their way up.

“For example, Fang joined the PLA in 1968 when he was 16. He served more than 34 years in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Fang became the commander of the Beijing Military Command, which covers part of North China, in 2007.

“Zhang Youxia, who takes over the responsibility of improving the PLA's weaponry and technology, is the son of Zhang Zongxun, one of the first PLA generals who achieved their ranks in 1955. This makes Zhang and his father the second such pair to achieve the rank.

“Li Qinggong, deputy secretary-general of the national security policy commission of the China Association of Policy and Science, said that all of the four newly appointed chiefs are veteran and strategists as they were promoted from major command areas.

“"As the leader of a military command area, it is necessary to think strategically and understand the overall picture," Li said, adding these appointments will also ensure that the top leadership know more about the situation at basic units in the armed forces.

“The appointments follow the steps of Ma Xiaotian, who was recently named commander of the Air Force.

“Education and extensive combat experience are common traits, retired general Xiong said. He cited the example of Ma, who used to attend training lessons with Xiong at a military academy.

“"Ma is an incredible pilot and studied at military academies. He used to be president of the National Defense University."

“Other top military posts were reshuffled recently in a move analysts said injects new blood and enhances the army's leadership.

“Wang Guanzhong, former head of the general office of the Central Military Commission, and Qi Jianguo, who was an assistant to the chief of the general staff and a veteran of the border war between China and Vietnam, was promoted to deputy chief of the general staff. ( My comment: This sentence is not very clear. There is apparently a typo )

“Li, from the China Association of Policy and Science, said that Wang might be the first Chinese military officer at his level with a doctorate.

“"Degrees are a trend in the PLA. At the grassroots there are numerous officers who have a master's or doctoral degree, while many of them even obtained diplomas from overseas institutes, which we could hardly imagine in the past."

“The Takungpao newspaper in Hong Kong said in a commentary on Wednesday that the reshuffle opens a window on the PLA leadership on the eve of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which will start on Nov 8.

“The appointed officers are mostly around the age of 60, which means they have spent about 40 years in the PLA and have extensive experience in various positions.

“That is conductive to the smooth transition of the military leadership ahead of, and after, the 18th CPC National Congress, the paper said.”

16.At the monthly press conference of the Ministry of National Defence held on the afternoon of October 25, a reporter asked  how the Defence Ministry would  comment on the reshuffle  in the PLA high level and whether the reshuffle aimed to strengthen exchanges between the PLA general headquarters/departments and the military area commands of the PLA.

17.Spokesman Yang Yujun, who is also deputy director of the Information Office of the Ministry of National Defence, said that the  reshuffle is normal personnel changes and over-interpretation from the public is not expected.

18. Despite his cautionary advice against over-interpretation of the reshuffle which he projected as a normal rotation of senior officers, it would be seen as  significant from the internal as well as the external points of view.

19. Internally, it would be seen as an attempt by Hu Jintao to retain the Chairmanship of the Party CMC after handing over as General Secretary of the Party and the State President to Xi Jinping till such time as the criminal trial of Bo Xilai, the party leader from Chonquing, is over and he has been convicted. Hu would be seen to have placed in position officers who would support his continuing to hold charge as the Chairman of the Party CMC. It remains to be seen whether the new Party leadership under XI would support this.

20. Externally, it would be seen as an attempt to place officers with extensive command experience, who have been playing a role in the modernisation of the Armed Forces, in key positions in view of the tensions in the South China and East China Seas due to frictions with some ASEAN powers and Japan over territorial sovereignty issues and the increasing role that the USA is seeking to play in the Asia-Pacific region.

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)